Originall published at the National Carholic Register, February 27, 2019.
In a recent column, I introduced the concept of weaponized self-pity. I noted how often I’ve seen divorced parents become defensive when I talk about the impact of divorce on children.
Numerous times, my friend Leila Miller and I have assured people that, yes, of course, spouses have every right to remove themselves from a genuinely abusive environment — although these assurances often go nowhere with some of those divorced parents to whom we speak.
In a similar way, I was about to respond yet again to someone claiming that the “Catholic right” seeks to “purge” all “gay priests” from the priesthood. Then I caught myself doing for priests who identify as “gay” what Leila was doing for divorce: repeating myself.
I am an outspoken proponent of the research that links homosexually inclined clergy and the incidences of clergy sexual abuse. My colleague, Ruth Institute senior research associate Father Paul Sullins, is the author of the important report “Is Clergy Sex Abuse Related to Homosexuality?” showing such a connection.
However, I have specifically denied the idea that we should automatically “purge” all same-sex-attracted clergy. I’ve denied it, in print, twice. Father Sullins, a gentle soul who defies easy, polarizing categorization, has also denied this very point.
Father John Zuhlsdorf recently wrote an article that basically said to priests who identify as gay, “If you feel like being a gay Catholic priest is like living in a cage, by all means, leave!” Yet even he denies the claim that there is some crusade afoot to remove all same-sex-attracted priests from the Church.
In Feb. 18 blog post, he wrote:
“Do I, Fr. Z, want you guys to get out? Frankly, yes, if you are having sex with men, yes. GET OUT. If you are striving to live a holy life, and you are ordained, then get on with your priesthood and stop whining about it and stop rubbing it in people’s faces. … I sincerely believe that people with same-sex attraction, if they strive to be chaste and bear their subsequent suffering, will have a very high place in heaven. The greater the burden and suffering, the greater the graces and reward.”
Yet I keep seeing stories about the “Catholic right” demanding a “purge” of priests who are homosexual. And here is where I identify another example of weaponized self-pity.
The priest who is publicly (and often very loudly in the secular media) identifying himself as gay resembles the divorced parents who cannot hear the children say that divorce has hurt them. For the divorced parent or public “gay priest,” the story is: “I’ve suffered. And my suffering trumps every other consideration. Let me tell you again how much I’ve suffered.”
Let us be clear: Men who have been sexually active with other men have caused a lot of problems in the Church. Conspicuously absent from the “sad gay priest” genre is an honest acknowledgement of this fact. Clergy sexual abuse is just one problem. Here are some other problems a homosexualized clergy has caused.
Some men struggling with same-sex attraction have gone to the clergy for help. Instead of hearing the fullness of the Church’s teaching on the universal call to chastity, these men were told to find a steady boyfriend and come to the parish’s gay-affirming ministry.
Speaking of these gay-affirming ministries, these groups were conspicuously absent from a recent New York Times story: “‘It’s Not a Closet. It’s a Cage.’: Gay Catholic Priests Speak Out.” And how terrible can that “clerical cage” described in the story be, if as much as 75% of the clergy are same-sex attracted, as The New York Times suggests?
Also, homosexuals don’t appear to be in a cage within the walls of the Vatican, according to author Frederic Martel, who, in his newly published book In the Closet of the Vatican, claims the vast majority of the Church’s hierarchy is “gay.” In fact, Martel suggests that homosexuality might be an advantage for promotion! As you can see, these two storylines contradict each other. Is it a cage or is it a foot in the door for advancement?
And what about those priests who are heterosexual but are under the authority of superiors who are homosexual? Did The New York Times interview any of them? They could have interviewed Father Paul Kalchik, who was visited by a couple of priests in retaliation for his parishioners burning a rainbow flag. Of course, they might have had trouble finding him. Father Kalchik, of the Archdiocese of Chicago, is in hiding — in fear for his life.
What about the further impact of publicly “gay clergy” on the laity? Do you suppose these priests are inclined to preach often and forcefully on sexual morality and bioethics? What about the people who have been spiritually deprived from never hearing the Church’s teaching on these important moral issues: the couple who are now in agony over their earlier choice to sterilize themselves; the man who has numerous children in the embryonic state who has not had a moment’s peace since finding out his children had been frozen.
The clergy are culpable for their silence. And that silence is, in part, induced by morally compromised men in the clergy.
Let me close with a word to priests who are coming out now as “gay”: Fathers, telling us about your difficult life is not appropriate. It is unseemly for you to be complaining about yourselves when the rest of the Church is trying to help the victims of clergy sex abuse.
Ratcheting up the sad stories doesn’t help one bit. Whatever problems you have in your life, face them with virtue and solve them. If you describe yourself as a “celibate gay priest,” I ask this question: Which word in that self-description is most important to you: “priest,” “celibate” or “gay”?
Fathers, I’m not out to purge you from the priesthood. I have neither the authority nor the inclination to do so. I’m also not going to try to urge you to leave the priesthood on your own. I do not know enough about you to discern whether that is the path of holiness for you. But I will leave you with one thought, as one adult human being to another.
We are all surrounded by worldly forces, tempting us to self-pity. Don’t take the bait. It will not do you any good. It will hinder you from helping us, your people. And we need you.
We need you to be holy priests, first and foremost. We need you to be celibate and honor your vow of chastity. And way down the list of your self-understanding, our understanding of you, and what the whole Church needs from you, comes your identity as “gay.”